The Zika virus does in fact cause microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects sometimes seen in the newborn children of a mother that contracted the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.
“We’ve now confirmed what mounting evidence has suggested, affirming our early guidance to pregnant women and their partners to take steps to avoid Zika infection and to health care professionals who are talking to patients every day," said CDC Director Tom Frieden in a statement.
The virus, which is carried and transmitted by mosquitoes, has no cure and is widespread in Mexico and Central and South America with 33 countries in the region reporting transmission. Infected babies are born with a birth defect that causes an abnormally small head and brain. In February, the World Health Organization declared Zika a public health emergency of international concern.
In January, a woman from Anoka County contracted the virus after a trip to Central America, but was not hospitalized and was expected to make a full recovery. That is the only confirmed case of the Zika virus in the Minnesota. Some travel agencies in Minnesota began canceling trips that month as well.
In February, Sen. Al Franken sent a letter (along with two other senators) to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, asking them to take actions that would motivate companies to find a treatment. Read more on that story here.
Empty containers that fill up water, officials say
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Health is encouraging Minnesotans to remove any containers from their property that could fill with rainwater, because they can be used as breeding areas by mosquitoes.
“A little bit of container removal work right now can go a long way to protect your family this summer,” said Dave Neitzel, the agency's vectorborne disease epidemiologist, in the news release.
Water inside old tires, buckets, cans, tarps and anything else that can hold rainwater for several weeks are places that mosquitoes commonly lay their eggs, said the agency. They recommend turning over containers such as wheelbarrows and children's wading pools to prevent the collection of rainwater and potential mosquito breeding sites.
The department also noted that mosquitoes carrying Zika have not been found in Minnesota, but removing containers "helps ensure that those mosquitoes would not get a foothold in Minnesota if they were to ever come here."
Another "rare but potentially serious virus disease" called La Crosse encephalitis was mentioned however. It is carried by mosquitoes as well, and can cause severe central nervous problems in children, according to the department.
On average, one to six cases of the disease are reported each year in the state, usually in "wooded or shaded areas in southern Minnesota where the Tree Hole mosquito (the main carrier of this virus) lives."